Fuel cell creates options

Bobby Vu is the electrical engineer working with professor of chemistry Iraj Parchamazad and a team of others on fuel cell research at the University of La Verne. A concept model of the entire fuel cell system was recently built to be used for marketing this ground-breaking alternative to fossil fuels. Vu works at La Verne's Campus West, located on Arrow Highway. / photo by Bailey Porter
Bobby Vu is the electrical engineer working with professor of chemistry Iraj Parchamazad and a team of others on fuel cell research at the University of La Verne. A concept model of the entire fuel cell system was recently built to be used for marketing this ground-breaking alternative to fossil fuels. Vu works at La Verne’s Campus West, located on Arrow Highway. / photo by Bailey Porter

by Melissa Lau
Managing Editor

With the thought of pending war with the Middle East, the status of one three-letter word concerns many Americans: oil. Oil is vital to the technology of the American lifestyle, and many fear what would happen if the supply were cut off.

Professor of chemistry Iraj Parchamazad predicts that at the rate we are consuming, the world’s oil supply will be used up in 20 years. However, a solution to this problem is slowly developing at the University of La Verne.

Parchamazad undertook a project on fuel cells over three years ago. At that time, only one or two universities were involved in what, he calls, the “most important technology of the century.”

“A fuel cell is an electrochemical device which converts chemical energy directly to electrical energy. More importantly, it uses hydrogen as a fuel,” Parchamazad said.

He said that fuel cells are much more efficient and quieter. Also, they do not emit harmful gases. The only byproduct from using hydrogen is water, which Parchamazad said, is fresh enough to drink.

“Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the earth,” he said.

However, this element is not typically found in its pure form, which means it is found in combination with other elements and must be separated to be used.

For example, two hydrogen atoms combine with an oxygen atom to form the element of water. In order for the hydrogen to be used, in this case from water, it must be separated from the oxygen.

One way of doing this, Parchamazad said, is through the use of solar energy. Another way is through the use of propane gas with the water to obtain hydrogen in its pure form.

When Parchamazad initiated this project, he became aware of the opportunity for ULV. He also saw the prestige it would bring to the University in, what he thought, would be less than five years.

“From the beginning, I thought this could change the image of this University rapidly,” he said.

Currently, ULV is primarily dependent on tuition for funding. Through an opportunity like this, however, the University can receive funds by means other than tuition.

Part of the project is located on the ULV campus, while another part is located on the Brown Property on Arrow Highway, which is owned by ULV.

The U.S. Department of Defense is particularly interested in this project, not for its environmental impact, but rather for its potential to make the United States less dependent on foreign countries for oil.

Parchamazad said the United States currently imports about 50 percent of its oil.

When a country pays another country, such as Iraq, for oil it funds that other country’s projects. The concern of the U.S. Department of Defense is that the money used to purchase the oil will fund the production of harmful weapons to use against the United States.

“This technology is part of the national defense,” Parchamazad said.

In addition to the United States, Canada’s defense is also interested in affects of fuel cell technology.

“The technology that we have is based on my patent,” he said.

Parchamazad submitted six patent requests to the U.S. government. Three of the six were granted; the remaining three patents are pending. Parchamazad said that nobody else, besides ULV, has this technology. With the patents, others who wish to use this technology are required to pay the school. One of the patents now allows the use of propane with the fuel cell.

When Parchamazad first began, only a few people were interested in this technology.

Today, the numbers are growing rapidly.

“Two years ago, when I went to the International Meeting there were, perhaps, 50 people,” Parchamazad said.

Last year, the number increased to an estimated 150 people in attendance at the conference.

Last month, Parchamazad attended the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar in Palm Springs.

This time, the number of attendants multiplied to about 2,500 people.

Eventually fuel cell technology may be a part of people’s everyday lives.

Parchamazad said that the fuel cell would be used residentially and, eventually, for transportation.

He said that homes will be able to have a fuel cell in their back yards, which will provide them with electricity.

Parchamazad said that the University has been supportive of the project so far, but he wants to see ULV take advantage of the opportunity it has at its fingertips.

“Everybody could be involved, and everybody could be so active,” he said.

This project is not exclusive to the science department. Parchamazad would like to see other departments getting involved.

In addition to the scientific approach, there are political and business issues as well.

Currently, the biology department is involved.

Robert Neher, professor of biology, and Jay Jones, director of the office of instructional technology and research, have supported Parchamazad through difficulties and have helped him make contracts.

In addition, Richard Gelm, associate professor of political science, is working as an adviser for the politics behind the project.

Michael Frantz, professor of mathematics, is also working as the adviser for mathematical modeling for the project.

In addition, in 2001, professor of journalism George Keeler and professor of communications Don Pollock, supported this project by bringing NBC news to ULV for a presentation on the fuel cell.

President Stephen Morgan supported the cause by attending the event.

During this presentation, a fuel cell was used to demonstrate the difference it can make in a recreational vehicle.

Prior to the fuel cell, a common complaint was that RVs are noisy, especially when the air conditioning is on.

Fuel cells, however, are much quieter and efficient.

Parchamazad said he would like others to become involved and work hand-in-hand with each other.

In doing so, he believes that other fields of education in the University will grow.

He believes publicity is needed to help find more investors and donors for the project.

Currently, ULV is receiving funding from a private investor.

“The University should maintain the Brown property for research and development for fuel cell and hydroelectric technology,” he said.

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